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BOOK REVIEW: "The Mango Bride" by Marivi Soliven

Marivi Soliven, a San Diego-based author of short stories and essays, launched her debut novel this May. The Mango Bride (Penguin NAL, May 2013) is a brilliant depiction of gender and immigration issues, bound in the restrictions of family and class.

Writing from the informed position of a Filipina immigrant to the United States, Soliven tells the entwined stories of two Filipino families and their contemporary daughters, Amparo Guerrero, a child of privilege, and Beverly Obejas, of the servant class. Soliven deftly describes the figurative and literal landscapes of Manila as the two girls come of age in their distinct social strata and geographies.

Soliven’s descriptions of Manila scenes are vivid. She pulls us through the throngs who take over the city’s cemetery on All Soul’s Day, through the markets and eateries, the wealthy neighborhoods and high-end hotels, the slums of the city. The scenes are so effectively drawn, they serve as an armchair trip to the Philippines, a land we read as being as rich in culture as it is poor in opportunity to break the bonds of one’s inherited position, whether high or low.

Still, the possibility of change arises in circumstances that force each of the young women to immigrate to the United States. Amparo must leave to maintain her wealthy family’s crackled façade of respectability and Beverly, to pursue a better life unattainable in the Philippines. Inevitably, Amparo’s journey reveals even more of her family’s ugly underbelly and Beverly learns the futility of becoming a mail-order bride of a damaged U.S. veteran.

But Soliven has written something more than a multigenerational family drama. She has incorporated compelling issues that humanize current news headlines as they help create vital characters. Immigration, gender and prejudice, class conflict, domestic violence—particularly its devastating effects on immigrants without U.S. citizenship—and the definition of family all drive the novel’s plot and the characters’ resolutions, both sorrowful and hopeful.

While The Mango Bride’s conclusion suggests that only the privileged can win the immigrant struggle for freedom, and the under classes are doomed to oppression and failed dreams, this disappointing notion is countered by Soliven’s insightful and sometimes lyrical rendering of the formidable social and economic structures that women must challenge to achieve their freedom.

Soliven will discuss The Mango Bride Tuesday, July 9, at the free, monthly Writers Read at Fallbrook Library, 124 S. Mission, in the Community Room. The reading begins at 6 p.m. with open mic for original poetry and prose, followed by Soliven’s reading, discussion and book signing.

For more information, contact K-B at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and have been published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, The Ocean Beach Rag, The Progressive Post and San Diego Free Press. She formerly worked for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at kbgressitt@gmail.com.